Tag Archives: mental health

Why Grit Matters

GHWB Prepares for Night Flight Operations

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest blog provided courtesy of the Human Performance Resource Center. Navy Suicide Prevention Branch is a proud partner of the Human Performance Resource Center. To learn more, visit https://www.hprc-online.org/.

Most people believe that talent and ability primarily enable peak performance and achievement. Emerging research shows that “grit”—a combination of effort and interest—also can predict success across a variety of domains, above and beyond your talents and skills. But what is grit? And is it possible to get more of it?

Grit is a psychological trait that shares some features with hardiness and mental toughness. It’s often compared to one’s ability to “suck it up and drive on” amid difficult situations. But grit is more than just your ability to plow ahead. It’s defined primarily as persistence or your ability to endure and carry on in the face of challenges and adversity. An additional facet of grit is consistency of interest or passion. Gritty people often are intensely committed to top-level personal goals for what they want to accomplish in life.

Why does grit matter?

Warfighters already might be able to envision what those with grit might look like in terms of their attitudes and behaviors. Gritty people don’t give up easily in the face of setbacks. They set goals, work hard, and stick with things until they achieve their desired end. Those who are high in grit aren’t easily distracted by new ideas and projects, and their interests remain stable from year to year.

Some research suggests that grit might be a factor in performance, especially during stressful, challenging, and demanding events. Grit can predict academic achievement in college students and adults. It also has been shown to predict retention of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy (USMA) through their first year of grueling training and schoolwork. Grit might be able to predict how much effort and time someone is willing to commit to physical exercise as well.

How can I get more grit?

Some grit can be accounted for by your genetics and personality, but you still can work toward getting grittier. Try these strategies to boost your grit.

  • Practice, practice, practice. You can grow your capacity to perform difficult tasks and develop your skills by practicing things in a disciplined manner. Practice like you mean it by engaging in focused and deliberate efforts to shore up weaknesses and make gradual progress every day.
  • Find (and remind yourself) of your purpose. When what you do every day fits your interests, you’re likely to feel more engaged and satisfied, perform better, and stay at your job longer than those whose interests aren’t aligned. That might seem like an obvious connection, but even if your everyday duties aren’t exactly what you’re interested in, find ways to fuel your internal motivation. Ask yourself, “Why does this matter to me, and how does it matter to others and the world around me?”
  • Build optimism. Cultivating optimism enables you to remain hopeful in the face of inevitable setbacks. Try to think of one of the grittiest people you know. Whether the person is an athlete, Warfighter, or someone in your family, you might notice that he or she worked through roadblocks by maintaining hope. Try to accurately attribute the causes of your successes and failures too. And know that even though you might not be where you want yet, there still are many opportunities ahead to get there.

The bottom line

Grit is a psychological factor that can contribute greatly to your chances of achieving success, and it can help you handle things and remain passionate in the face of setbacks. If you have children, visit HPRC’s Family Resilience section for more tips on how to cultivate grit in kids too.

The Sabotage of the Imposter Phenomenon

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Have you ever transferred to a new command, a new position or a new rank, and felt completely unprepared and insecure about your work performance? You don’t have to admit it out loud, but many in the Navy suffer in silence with the thought that they are “frauds” who, only by sheer luck, attained their achievements, successes, and accolades. Instead of realizing that their skill, intuitiveness, and knowledge contributed to their ability to transfer or advance, they may believe that someone made a terrible mistake in allowing it.

The structure and culture of the Navy can often require Sailors to take on new responsibilities with little preparation. Sailors may take on a collateral duty, and even with all the instruction and training, still feel overwhelmed and unprepared. The ability to adapt and overcome is highly praised, but constantly feeling unprepared can erode our feelings of self-worth and make us question if we truly belong.

Understanding the Imposter Phenomenon

“Imposter Syndrome” is a term coined in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes to describe a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.”

The imposter phenomenon or syndrome is not an official psychological diagnosis, but it can often be associated with anxiety and depression. It occurs in anyone but is often felt by high-achievers who connect their self-worth to success and question if they truly belong in their position. For Sailors, talking about self-doubt may be uncomfortable. It isn’t exactly a typical topic of discussion at the smoke deck or in the galley. The imposter phenomenon can cause fear of being found out as a fraud who is not really qualified to do the assigned job, resulting in ridicule, humiliation, and shame, when the reality is that they are fully competent and capable.

Learning to Believe in Yourself

You can overcome these feelings without embarrassment. When feelings of insecurity become overwhelming, and thoughts that everyone is going to figure out that you are a phony start to creep into your mind, there are some things that you can do to remind yourself that everything you’ve earned is due to your hard work and dedication, not sheer luck or coincidence.

  • Develop and maintain high-quality connections, and find mentors. These sorts of relationships are built on trust, commitment, and encouragement. By sharing experiences, proving that you’re not the only one who has had feelings of self-doubt, a mentor can help you learn to use vulnerability to your advantage and continue to excel. Others have been in your shoes, so you don’t always have to “figure it out on your own.” Find someone who can be a mentor that is willing to listen and provide the guidance you need.
  • Utilize your connections as a learning tool and an “support squad.” When you have buddies who you can talk to about your self-doubt, you can also look to them for inspiration when they have accomplished something new and learn the steps they took to reach their goals. Plus, they will be there to cheer for your achievements.
  • Keep a running list of your successes and accomplishments. It may sound like an activity for the self-absorbed, but when you feel like your achievements are not deserved, acknowledging them and realizing how many there are can be a great reminder that you truly earned them.
  • Realize that perfection is not attainable. Zero-defect is often the goal because we want to avoid accidents at sea or major mishaps, but no leader is perfect. You are human. Instead of thinking, “I’m not good enough,” “I’m a failure,” or “I’m a terrible LPO,” allow your inner voice to say, “I’m doing my best,” “I’m trying,” and “I’m working on it.” That change will dramatically alter how you feel and respond to challenges.

Reaching out for Support

Feeling some insecurity about new tasks or experiences is normal, but when those feelings cause you to believe that you are undeserving of your accomplishments, it can contribute to other psychological health concerns.

The imposter phenomenon can manifest in multiple ways. No matter how it shows up in your life, it is important to remember a few key points: achieving perfection is nearly impossible, making mistakes and facing setbacks are normal parts of the process, seeking external validation is a surefire way to feel insecure, and asking for help is not a sign of failure.

If you or a shipmate is dealing with psychological health concerns, the BeThere Peer Support Call and Outreach Center offers resources and information 24/7/365 via phone at 844-357-7337 or on their website at http://www.betherepeersupport.org.

The Role of Resilience after Setbacks

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Health scares, forgotten deadlines, missed promotions, and failed classes are just a few of the unexpected setbacks that life can toss our way; and most of us have or will encounter some sort of setback in life. These obstacles can be disheartening at best. At worst after facing an obstacle or multiple obstacles, we may feel like we have no control and resign to accepting the failure as permanent. We may feel depressed, angry, defeated, frustrated, experience a depleted sense of self-worth, or even all of those at once.

While they may skew our outlook temporarily, learning how to constructively deal with setbacks and other obstacles can actually improve psychological health by helping to build resilience. This resilience not only helps us bounce back from failures and defeats, but helps us thrive in future efforts.

Risk and Reward vs. Fear of Failure

Risk and reward seem like they go hand-in-hand with fast-paced military life, and service members are often thought to be fearless. When we’re successful at something we took a risk on—whether a difficult mission or an advancement exam that took months to prepare for—our brains release a chemical signal called dopamine that makes us feel good. This builds our confidence and contributes to more success. Unfortunately, it can also impact our ability to handle failure1.

After a major setback or series of repeated ones, just the thought of failing at something can be discouraging and can ignite fear. Fear is an understandable feeling, but it often prevents us from taking the risk of trying again because our brains begin to associate that risk with a threat, leading to avoidance. Courage gives us the mental and moral strength to move forward even when facing challenges. It is honesty about fears, willingness to be vulnerable, the desire to succeed and the preparation for a potential failure. Engaging in courageous acts helps break down fears. Avoiding risks may seem like the best way to avoid failure, but the reality is that you fail at anything you don’t try.

Self-Care for Setbacks

Failure after taking a risk doesn’t have to signal the end of your effort. In fact, failure can breed some of our most creative moments that can lead us back to the rewards of success. Here are some ways to productively deal with setbacks:

  • Take a step back. Naturally, after dealing with a setback, you will want to replay it, figure out what went wrong, and fix it. Just as illnesses or injuries need time to heal, so do you after encountering an obstacle. Take the time you need to process what has happened, but try not to ruminate and cause yourself additional stress. Utilizing a breathing exercise can help you stay relaxed.
  • Take ownership without blame. Once you have dealt with a setback, acknowledge it and own it. Blame is a common response to a setback, but transferring the responsibility, whether to yourself or to someone else, will not eliminate or change the situation, and it may discourage you from trying to find solutions. Journaling is a great outlet to express and understand stress, increase self-confidence, boost mood and let go of negative thoughts after dealing with a setback.
  • Find support. Looking to the family, friends, and shipmates who you trust can help you feel better when dealing with setbacks. Encouragement from those you are connected to can be reassuring during times of disappointment. Also, spirituality helps many people feel motivated to persevere, and it can help you recognize your purpose and understand the potential reasons that a situation did not work out as you wanted it to. Chaplains can help you explore spiritual factors when dealing with disappointment and uncertainty from setbacks.
  • Regain control. While certain factors that caused a setback may be unrelated to your actions, remember that you still have control. Being able to face setbacks and understand how you can apply lessons learned in the future is empowering. Try making a list of your proudest accomplishments or your favorite personal attributes to remind yourself that you have the ability to succeed and are not defined by your current circumstances.

Bouncing Back

While setbacks are disheartening, they can be a catalyst for progress. Maintaining positive thoughts after facing an obstacle can help you better navigate stress and feel encouraged to accomplish potential goals. Engaging in self-care after a setback can alleviate stress and frustration. And getting SMART about your future goals can help prevent future setbacks.

Take some time after encountering a setback to avoid rushing into finding solutions before thinking through the options. Acknowledge the setback and realize that many factors may have contributed to it. Lean on friends, family, and shipmates for support, and remember that spirituality can be helpful for understanding purpose after a setback. Keep your cool after a setback to response positively and feel empowered to make needed changes for future opportunities. And always remember that even taking a risk is a sign of courage. If things didn’t go your way this time, don’t feel defeated. See a setback as an opportunity to learn and grow. Even if you have failed, remember the words of Robert Louis Stevenson: “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”

Nutrition’s Role in Building Resilience

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Editor’s Note: The following is a guest blog provided courtesy of the Real Warriors Campaign. Navy Suicide Prevention Branch is a proud partner of the Real Warriors Campaign. To learn more, visit www.realwarriors.net.

Proper nutrition is vital to maintaining good health and mission readiness.1 In this article, you will find tips on making healthy food choices, whether at home or while deployed. You can also help boost the resilience of your whole family by sharing these tips with loved ones.

Why Nutrition is Important

One of the most important drivers of good physical and psychological health is what we eat.2 Food provides the energy and nutrients you need to be healthy. Nutrients include:3

  • Proteins (e.g. fish, chicken, beans)
  • Carbohydrates (e.g., bread, fruits, vegetables)
  • Fats (e.g., walnuts, olive oils)
  • Vitamins (e.g., vitamin D, folic acid)
  • Minerals (e.g., potassium, calcium)
  • Water

In short, healthy food is really fuel for the body. This fuel is key to your physical and mental performance, and helps maintain emotional control during field operations.4 Beyond performance, nutrition also plays an important role in protecting overall health throughout a lifetime. A diet rich in whole grains, lean protein, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products helps lower the risk of certain diseases such as diabetes.3

Nutrition Tips

While healthy food options may be limited while deployed, the military has long understood the role of nutrition for service members. The military is continually working on improving the food supply for deployed warriors such as introducing the Unitized Group Ration–Express, a nutritionally complete meal-in-a-box group ration, and re-assigning some dietitians at dining facilities to implement education programs and food selection recommendations.If you are deployed, keep these helpful nutrition tips in mind:

  • To boost energy, consume complex carbohydrates such as fruits and whole grain bread
  • To meet the demand for increased energy needs in the field, increase your intake of food to prevent fatigue
  • To meet the need for increased energy in cold weather and at high altitudes, try to eat healthy, nutritious snacks in between meals and drink more than your thirst may dictate since the sensation does not keep pace with water loss.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration; even mild dehydration can reduce your physical and mental performance

While home, and when possible while deployed, the following daily nutrition recommendations are important to keep in mind:1,5

Fruits and vegetables Eat at least 3 – 5 servings of colorful vegetables and 2 or more servings of fruit each day.
Grains Aim for 6 or more servings of whole grain products each day.
Fiber 20 – 35 grams of dietary fiber are recommended daily, although a low-fiber diet may be preferred during some operations.
Dairy Aim to have 3 cups of low-fat dairy products, including milk, yogurt and cheese, each day.
Meat/beans Eat 7 ounces of meat or beans (legumes) each day, with lean or low-fat choices that are heavy on fish, beans, peas, nuts and seeds.

In addition to these food groups, research is also uncovering the importance of omega-3 fatty acids to a healthy diet. Omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to decreased risk of heart disease, certain cancers, circulatory problems and high blood pressure. Researchers have also linked omega-3 deficiencies with increased risk of depression or other psychological health concerns. Some studies indicate that supplements provided to warriors who have low levels of omega-3s might provide a significant boost in their mood and additional resistance to stress.1 Seafood, including oily ocean fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel, are among the richest fish sources of DHA, one of the most efficient forms of omega-3 fatty acids. While there is no official recommendation on a recommended daily allowance for omega-3, dietary guidelines call for increasing the amount of seafood consumed as part of a healthy eating pattern.6

What Line Leaders Can Do

As a line leader, it is important to stay informed about your service’s nutrition programs. It is also important to educate units about nutrition using guidance from each respective service.1 Finally, you should provide a model for healthy eating behavior and encourage everyone to make nutrition choices that help build resilience and contribute to mission success.

Additional Resources

Sources

1Scott Montain, Christina Carvey and Mark Stephens. “Nutritional Fitness” [PDF 4.65MB], Total Force Fitness for the 21st Century, Supplement to Military Medicine-Volume 175. Published August 2010.
2The Nutrition Source, Harvard School of Public Health. Last accessed Aug. 20, 2014.
3Nutrition, MedLine Plus, National Institutes of Health. Last accessed Aug. 20, 2014.
4Module 6: High Caliber Nutrition in the Field [PDF 1.10MB], U.S. Army Public Health Command (Provisional). Last accessed Aug. 20, 2014.
5Patricia A. Deuster and others. “Sustaining Health for the Long-Term Warfighter” [PDF 451KB], The Warfighter Nutrition Guide, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. Last accessed Aug. 20, 2014.
6Covington, Maggie. “Omega-3 Fatty Acids,” American Family Physician. Published July 1, 2004.
7Health Consequences, Overweight & Obesity, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

Fueling Your Body and Mind with Food

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The relationship between food and health is complex. The foods we eat have a chemical effect on the brain and impact how we feel. Eating processed foods—from nutritional supplements like protein powders to combo meals from your favorite drive-thru—can keep your body from accessing the beneficial nutrients it needs to help you feel and perform your best. Why is this? Many of the essential and naturally occurring nutrients are stripped, altered or replaced during processing. This includes fiber, phytonutrients and other healthy compounds.

Current studies show that a balanced diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein promotes optimal health and better mood. These whole foods are made of vitamins and minerals that are broken down during digestion, making them available for the body to use as energy and for essential processes like cellular repair. When essential components are missing, we experience a decline in energy, alertness and mood.

Supplement vs. Whole Food

Supplements typically use artificial or synthetic vitamins and minerals, which may not offer the same benefits as whole foods. The human body is designed to recognize natural and whole ingredients, so it isn’t able to utilize the man-made vitamins and minerals as effectively.

Many supplements isolate particular nutrients and leave out essentials that the body would otherwise use if the food was consumed in its natural form. Take whey protein powder supplements for example. While this milk-based protein produces a rapid increase in amino acids needed for muscle growth and repair, casein protein can also help prevent muscle breakdown (which in turn, supports growth). Where do both whey and casein naturally occur? In milk! In general, service members consume enough protein through their food and don’t actually need to supplement their protein intake.

Comfort Food vs. Whole Food

Our mood often influences what we eat, but what we eat can also influence our mood. Consider these scenarios:

  • Two Sailors are experiencing similar stressors. They’re in the midst of preparing for permanent change of station (PCS) moves that are causing a lot of strain in their households and on their wallets. At work, they’re both hit with short-fused tasks that their current supervisors are keeping close watch on, in addition to the other things they have to get done.
  • When Sailor A gets home, tired and frustrated, he reaches for cookies, potato chips and a soda and heads to the couch. He starts to get his mind off of everything, but about 20 minutes later he’s back to feeling drained and irritated.
  • When Sailor B gets home, tired and frustrated, he goes for some leftover grilled chicken and vegetables in the refrigerator and a glass of water. His problems don’t go away after he eats, but he’s able to regroup and shift focus to the things he can get done at home to support the move without feeling angry or annoyed.

Why the different outcomes? The comfort foods Sailor A went for are highly processed, high in added sugar and fat, and low in nutrients. While they may have an emotional appeal (especially if they were his go-to comforts as children) those effects wore off quickly. The vitamins and nutrients he needed to rebalance his mood, such as serotonin, were missing or less effective because they were in a man-made form that wasn’t as accessible to his body. This emotional rollercoaster can increase feelings of anxiety, depression and fatigue, causing the craving cycle to begin again. Sailor B got the benefits of serotonin, boosting his mood and giving him the energy to do something productive. Not only did he get his mind off of his day, but he’ll sleep better and be more focused and alert.

How to make changes

Eating healthy or healthier doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Here are a few ways to make the switch to whole or less processed foods:

  • Re-think fast food. For a quick and healthy meal, opt for a rotisserie chicken at your local grocery store, a salad and fresh fruit.
  • Shop the perimeter of your grocery store for fresh meats and produce. Most frozen food is good too; just skip items with gravies and sauces. Living in the barracks? Check out these tips to eat healthy while saving time, space and money.
  • Swap out your sugary snack stash for your favorite fresh fruits and vegetables; the original comfort foods. Pair them with 10-15 nuts or a tablespoon peanut butter or other healthy spread.
  • If going for a processed food (something that comes in a bag, box, container or package), aim for five ingredients or less. Watch out for high-fructose corn syrup and other hidden sugars.

Talk to your Health Promotions Office or Registered Dietitians (RD/N) office for more information and resources.

LT Pamela Gregory, OPNAV N17 Nutrition Program Manager, is a Registered Dietitian with nine years’ experience in counseling a wide variety of clientele on nutrition and health-related diseases/ topics. LT Gregory uses a functional nutrition approach to assist clients in their treatment phase.

References:

  1. (2015, Aug. 31). Is Whey Protein the way to go? Retrieved Jun. 21, 2017, from http://hprc-online.org/dietary-supplements/hprc-articles/is-whey-protein-helpful-to-optimize-performance.
  2. (2014, Jan. 2 ). Can Food Affect Your Mood. Retrieved Jun. 21, 2017, from http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/01/02/food-affects-mood.aspx
  3. (2012, Jan. 1) Journal of Food Science, 77 PP R11-R24.
  4. (1999). Impact of Processing on Food Safety. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, 459 PP 99-106.